Tag: Social Proof

Social Proof: Tori Dunlap on Evolving a Personal Brand Beyond the Person

Social Proof: Tori Dunlap on Evolving a Personal Brand Beyond the Person

This edition of Social Proof features a different story, offering the scenario of “what if my personal brand grew to be more than me?” That has been Tori Dunlap’s experience as her project to save $100,000 before the age of 25 has grown into a business touching millions of people’s lives.

The founder of multimillion-dollar brand HerFirst100k sat (zoomed?) with me for Social Proof about what happens when the brand that has been so reliant on your name grows more prominent than you.

As the interviewee with the largest audience of four million people across different social media platforms, Tori is an exciting deviation from the other impressive personalities we’ve met so far.

In this interview, we talk about growing out of the nine to five (even when you’re not entirely confident), the power of social media to accelerate brand growth, and the exciting future of personal branding.

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: It’s so great to have you on for Social Proof, Tori! What do you think about personal branding in general? Have you been quite intentional about building yours?

If you were to ask me two years ago if HerFirst100k is a personal brand, I would say yes. But now it is so much bigger than that. And we're actually purposefully trying to make it not a personal brand. It is so tied to me, but we are now a team of 14, and HerFirst100k is a community of nearly four million people. So I think it's now more of a company that happens to be founded by me, and we're purposefully trying to make it not a personal brand.

Social Proof: Tori Dunlap on Evolving a Personal Brand Beyond the Person

In terms of what a personal brand is, I think it's how you choose to show up either in a business, online, or as an extension of yourself. So it can take various forms. And one of the biggest things that folks building a personal brand realize at some point is that it should be a part of you rather than all of you. And it also should be the part of you with something to say or some value to offer people. But that is separate from your inherent worth as a human being.

Q: And would you call what you have now a personal brand?

If I'm not playing small, I'm calling it an empire. But if I'm calling it something more realistic, it's an organization far beyond me and my personal story and has been for some time.

Q: You’re very visible in a way previous Social Proof interviewees aren’t. How does it feel to have your image so closely tied to such a massive brand in HerFirst100k?

Ninety-eight percent of the time, it’s great, but that two percent is challenging. How long do you have on the business side? If you’re not a person who runs a business and you see someone who is a business owner online, you might think they handle everything. This is especially true for a business like mine where I’m so visible.

But I obviously can’t reply to every email or respond to every Instagram comment – that’s just not possible. I think the creator world is still so veiled because people can think that one person runs an entire company. And that’s made the personal side very challenging – it’s hard to separate me from the business because I care so much about it.

It feels like an inverted pyramid where I have so much impact on the business that if something were to happen to me tomorrow, HerFirst100k might not exist. That’s something we’ve had to consider over the past year.

A couple of other interesting things are that I'm making more money than ever, and I get recognized on the street. And if I go out, I wonder if someone recognizes me or is watching me – that's a weird feeling that I'm not used to yet. But people are always very kind, and we get messages every five minutes telling us that our work has changed lives – it’s the coolest part of our work.

In addition, the perceived need to show up all of the time because if my face isn't on a TikTok, it doesn't perform as well. And so there are interesting expectations around the pace and consistency of the content that we have to create. And unfortunately, the content that I still need to be involved in for the success of the business. So again, these are all like strategic things that we're working on finding a better answer for.

Q: Now for my favorite question: what three words would you use to describe your/HerFirst100k’s brand?

Feminist, educational, and unapologetic.

We are a financial education company, but ultimately, we are a feminist company that happens to use money as our medium. And I think that that's something a lot of people might not publicly understand. But privately, as a team, that's what we're laser-focused on. We are a feminist brand first, financial second.

Social Proof: Tori Dunlap on Evolving a Personal Brand Beyond the Person

Q: Did your social media efforts start because you needed a marketing vehicle for HerFirst100k? Or were you already doing things on social media, and that led to you creating your business?

It was probably the latter because my background was in social media marketing. So the financial education business was not part of the plan. But I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And so I was building a blog and a social media presence on the side of my nine to five.

Then through a couple of years of experimenting, I realized I wanted to have conversations about money and share education. So I feel like I knew a lot about social media, knew how to navigate it, knew how to tell stories, and was able to leverage those tools.

Social Proof: Tori Dunlap on Evolving a Personal Brand Beyond the Person

On the flip side, I don't think we really saw growth in our business until our social media grew, so I think they fed each other. I knew what I wanted to do in terms of marketing or figured that out along the way. It’s a cycle: our mission with HerFirst100k aided our social media growth which fed back into our mission.

Q: At what point did you decide to leave your career in marketing to focus on your business?

I told myself from week two of working a corporate job, “This is not for me forever,” because the plan was always to be an entrepreneur. I decided to quit once my business started consistently making as much money as my nine-to-five. And the weird thing that happened – because as the money person, you think I would have done this – I wasn’t keeping track of how much my business was making.

Of course, I knew the numbers generally, but I didn't know what they were month over month. And I think that’s because I would have had to quit if I knew. I saw the momentum, we’d started making some money, and I purposely wasn't crunching numbers because I would have had to keep the promise to myself. And that – quitting my job – felt very scary.

But while on vacation, I got the call for a Good Morning America, came back, and did the interview. Three weeks later, I quit my job and never looked back.

I'm financially independent at 28, we give women jobs, we're a multi-million dollar company – it was 100 percent the right choice.

Q: And how does it feel seeing the shift to brand-creator relationships not long after you left a company to become a creator?

I think it is a difference in how the work is changing, how the internet is changing, and how if you are not ready and interested in adopting these changes, you will get left behind. There are all sorts of exciting changes, and if you are unwilling to adapt and bring in new, diverse talent, you will miss out on significant benefits for your brand.

Q: Which of your efforts, prior to media attention on platforms like Good Morning America, was the turning point for you and your business?

Overnight successes only seem to have happened overnight because you discovered them overnight. I discover so many people that seem to have come out of nowhere. That's the same thing with me – you didn't hear about me for years, but I’ve been building for seven years. So there were two of those turning points before the media attention and seeming overnight success.

The first key moment was when I rebranded my business in 2018. Technically, our business is still called Victory Media which is the umbrella under which HerFirst100k exists. And while I still love that name, it had nothing to do with what the company does. If I was quoted in an article, no one would know what my company does from the name Victory Media’. Rebranding to HerFirst100k was not only very clear, but it also says in the title who exactly I'm appealing to.

The second biggest turning point was 100 percent getting on TikTok in July 2020. A video went viral not long after we started posting; it was growth like I had never seen before. We went from, I think, 2000 followers to around 200,000 or more within a few weeks. We had another video go viral in 2021, which is our most viewed video and has seven million views. It drove 100,000 email subscribers to our newsletter in a week – just from that one video.

@herfirst100k

Making bank teaching women how to make bank. #smallbusiness #clownshit #personalfinance feminist #moneytips #adulting #manifesting #businessowner

♬ trump sells like poo poo (Apashe – Sand Storm feat. Odalisk) – ⁺˚*・༓☾haya☽༓・*˚

It was the opportune time – everybody was on TikTok at the time and bored at home. I was the same, consuming content for about four months before I started creating it. And I think that really helped because I could understand trends, what worked and what didn't.

We now have 2.2 million followers, it's increased our Instagram following tenfold, it's probably quadrupled our revenue, and it's been the driver of our podcast success. It's just changed absolutely everything. So I think those were our two big turning points: changing the name of the business at least publicly and then starting on Tik Tok and navigating our platform.

Q: If you could tell younger Tori anything, what would it be?

I talk to her all the time – she's so proud of me, and I'm so proud of her. I'd tell her to chill out first of all. My ambition is the reason I am where I am, but it also, sometimes, makes me miserable. Because the interesting thing is, that I had people I looked up to and compared myself to for a long time. For example, I discovered Jenna Kutcher, who’s amazing and already had a massive platform in 2016. And I remember looking at her and thinking – I can do that, I can have that business.

I would post on Instagram, or I would send an email, and I wouldn't see any growth. And I'd be really frustrated. Because again, the overnight success thing. I discovered her now, and so I want what she has now. But she had grown to be so successful over multiple years, and I got so impatient that I wasn't seeing the same amount of success at the pace I wanted. We’re now colleagues, but I look back on that and can see that I had to go through the years to reach a certain point, just like everybody else.

Even if you know you're capable of something, it won’t work out as you expect if it's not the right time. You have to make all the mistakes and learn all the ropes to reach the same level of success. If future me showed up to past me and gave me Jenna Kutchner’s business, I wouldn’t have been able to support it. I did not have the bandwidth, expertise, confidence, or knowledge to do that. I didn't have the boundaries to be able to do that.

You have to patiently build that over time till you get to the point where you can build the business that you want. It has to come through time and patience, and dedication. So to younger me, who was so ambitious – much like my current self – I would tell her that she’s capable, but it’ll take a bit of time to get to where she wants.

Q: What downsides have you experienced as a creator with such a large platform?

The lack of separation emotionally for me because I care so much about this. Feedback hurts more, both necessary feedback and criticism because it's directed at me and not at the company that happens to be led by me. I think people are more likely to give that criticism because they feel like I'm going to see it and read it and internalize it. And they're usually right, I've usually seen it. As someone who often is very vocal about issues, I feel like doing so opens me up to a lot of criticism. Because if I'm vocal, other people will be vocal about me.

Also, getting recognized can be really beautiful but comes with its own challenges.

And the biggest one is that I will screw up. I'm often scared that people won't offer the grace I hope they will, and I feel there's very little forgiveness for people online. But I'm hoping that people have the grace to understand that I will do my best to acknowledge my mistakes, make them right, and learn.

Q: With the context of your journey, what do you see as the future of personal branding?

Social Proof: Tori Dunlap on Evolving a Personal Brand Beyond the Person

When you think about people with a strong personal brand like Oprah, whose name has become so well-known but is a huge business with many people working behind the scenes, in reality. It’s Oprah’s book club, the Oprah network, and Oprah magazine, but no one thinks she’s writing the whole magazine herself. But with most online creators, if you’re not paying attention, you may still think that the people with huge platforms are doing so much work alone. That’s just not the case.

So I think the future of personal branding will be much more like running a business. Even the perception of a personal brand doesn't feel as legitimate as saying, you know, I'm a C Corp or an LLC. And that will also change how consumers think about brands. It will become more widely known and accepted that the people you see online likely have a team supporting their creative efforts, no matter how relatable they are. In addition, I hope people will understand that it’s hard to grow at the same rate as their favorite creators without that team. So it would help mitigate creator burnout and develop a personal brand.

There’s also an opportunity there for people to connect with a company and a mission to foster diverse thoughts, general diversity, and connection with many people around a particular mission. Again, this is a far better option than having one person grow until they become an almost godlike figure. And as we know, godlike figures are never, ever a good idea.

Takeaways

Like I said in the intro, this interview was a departure from the other Social Proof installments we’ve done. Tori’s turned her personal brand into a business, bringing a different perspective to successfully growing an online reputation. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from our conversation:

  • The future of personal branding will be operating like a business: Tori makes a great point that even if someone is the face of a big project, there’s often a large team supporting them. In practice, this might look like creating video content and paying someone else to edit or using a personal assistant. A great example of a personal brand-turned-business like Tori’s is Ali Abdaal’s growth from a team of one to a team of twenty-one (as of December 2021). To scale his content operations, Ali runs his creative platforms like a company – we may begin to see more of this, albeit on a smaller scale.
  • Patience is vital as you grow and scale your personal brand: Tori’s business has an audience of nearly 4 million people, but that didn’t come overnight. It took years – and consistency – to build HerFirst100k to where it is today. When building your personal brand, you must be patient and persistent at publishing content and engaging with people to see the long-term impact.
  • There’s no project too niche to share: An interesting highlight of this interview was Tori breaking down the choice to name the business HerFirst100k. It’s so specific because that’s what she started sharing content around – saving $100,000 – but also because it clearly states who the business is for. There are people of all genders that might be trying to save more or less money, and they could benefit from the content being shared, but the business knows exactly who its audience is. The takeaway is to a) get specific and b) share your seemingly too-specific pursuits because there’s an audience for almost everything.

Looking for ways to improve your processes to scale your personal brand? Try Buffer for consistent content scheduling.

https://buffer.com/resources/social-proof-tori-dunlap/

Social Proof: Shaan Puri on Curating First Impressions

Social Proof: Shaan Puri on Curating First Impressions

Four installments into Social Proof, and we’ve landed a powerhouse interviewee. Shaan Puri is a multi-hyphenate entrepreneur, investor, and creator with platforms that reach millions of people every day.

From his two newsletters, one personal and the other called The Milk Road talking about crypto, to his audience of over 300,000 people on Twitter, to his popular My First Million podcast, Shaan’s creative output is fascinating. And his platforms are just a side hustle – he also sold his startup, Bebo, to Twitch and now runs a rolling fund investing in other startups.

In this interview, discover how Shaan has grown and leveraged his personal brand, as well as an interesting exercise in personal branding that everyone should try.

Callout: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to meet with me for Social Proof Shaan! We’re starting with a two-for-one question: What do you think about personal branding, and would you call what you have a personal brand?

The way I think about it is: I’m just trying to put myself out there. It’s like when you’re in a car and have the music so loud that other people can hear it from their cars. Whatever I am, I want it to be loud enough that if somebody hears it and they like that song, they'll start nodding along.

Social Proof: Shaan Puri on Curating First Impressions

My goal is that by putting my thoughts, ideas, and personality out there, I will attract like-minded people who enjoy those thoughts and have similar ones to share. It’s just my way of attracting like-minded people to me.

Q: And when did you start this process of attracting like-minded people?

I started when I was first interviewing for a job. I asked myself, “what am I trying to do in this interview?”

Ultimately, I wanted to walk in and leave an impression on whoever I was meeting. And that's a brand, right? That's what a brand does – Nike and McDonald’s want you to know something about them. They want it to be memorable, and they want it to be favorable. So I thought that, instead of preparing answers to their questions, I should consider what I wanted them to know and remember about me.

I was interviewing with two companies that day – Stripe and an idea lab called Monkey Inferno. And I decided that when they discussed me, they’d all say, “He’s really ‘blank’, ‘blank’ and ‘blank’.” I thought carefully about what words should go in those blanks, which is how I worked backward from figuring out my brand.

Q: I like that you mentioned the words because that ties in nicely to my next question: what three words would you use to describe your personal brand?

Going back to my interview prep story, I remember writing: I want them to know that I'm

  • Bold aka I take action
  • Fun/Funny, i.e., someone they would want around the office
  • Clever so that I might not be the smartest person in the room, but I could always think of creative ways to win.

Naturally, a lot has changed since I first did this exercise, and my preferred last word is: Successful because I find that people want to do business with people who are already successful.

Social Proof: Shaan Puri on Curating First Impressions
Shaan Puri's pillar branding exercise

And I used what I call a “pillar branding exercise,” where I draw out pillars – similar to those at the front of the White House. This is meant to help visualize the pillars that hold up my brand. At the top of each pillar, I wrote bold, funny, and clever.

Putting it into action was a bit different. I couldn’t just come out and tell [the interviewers] I'm bold because nobody would believe that. What I needed to do was tell them stories about things that I've done that would lead them to have only one conclusion about me: he’s pretty bold, or he takes action. To facilitate that, I started pulling stories from things I've done that would support that pillar. And I would fill [the pillar] out.

And for some of the pillars, I had more stories than others, which helped me realize that even though I wanted to be perceived a certain way, I hadn’t taken enough action in that direction. So this exercise was also a note to try more things I wanted to be part of my brand. It became more than just a branding exercise – more of a roadmap for how I wanted to approach life.

There's also one last piece of the puzzle that you can also add as a pillar which is what you are not. I want people to say, “He is not blank.” I would say the words to fill up the space here are: fake and robotic. I don’t want to come off as either when interacting with someone.

Q: You do many things – podcasts, newsletters, posting regularly on Twitter, launching a course. Which of these has been your favorite medium of expression? Which one do you think is the most effective for your brand? And how do you balance doing all these things at the same time?

I think they all go together. You asked a question about time, and many things you mentioned are what I do in my spare time – work is occupied by the two businesses I run. This is why I don’t buy the excuse of time – a lot of these activities are passion projects, things I enjoy doing. They don’t feel like work to me.

In terms of value, I think the most valuable content medium for me has been the podcast, but they all go together. It’s like a funnel – at the top is where people discover you, and that discovery tends to be through Twitter for me. I grew my Twitter in the last year from maybe 20,000 followers to 300,000 followers. And I did that because I wanted people to have an easy, lightweight touchpoint.

And there would be people who wanted to go a bit further down the funnel, which leads them to my newsletter. So beyond the shorter-form Twitter content, I could also be in my audience’s inbox and share more in-depth thoughts.

Anyone that wanted to go further can then be led to the bottom of the funnel through my podcast, where you hear my voice, tone, and inflection. It’s the closest I get to my audience and where I can build the most trust. If I’m in your ears 50 hours a year, that’s more than you talk to most people. So it helps build a very valuable relationship with people.

Q: What three tactics would you recommend people try when figuring out which vehicles they can use to build their brands?

I would say don't do it if you're just trying to build a brand. Because then you've just created work for yourself. And honestly, if you're going to work that hard on it, you might as well build a business or work at a job. The way I look at it is I want the projects I do to be what I already enjoy.

I suggest you find what type of content you like to create, whether interviewing people or curating stuff for your feed. Whatever it is, just do what's fun and natural for you. And the byproduct will be your brand getting built. You can do some things along the way to go a little faster or be more intentional about it, but the more important part is finding what you enjoy.

And even if no brand got built out of it, it would still be worth it. For example, my podcast is valuable because it gets about 20 million downloads a year. But when I started, I didn't plan for people to listen – I thought that was very unlikely. I was more interested in having interviews and conversations with interesting people. Sure, some people might listen to it, but that wasn't my reason for doing it. And that's why I stuck with it.

Most people have some external goal like fame or money for starting creative projects. And when they don’t immediately see results, they get discouraged and give up. The people who win are the people who do it because it's fun for them. The act of doing it is the reward – they don't need the other stuff, and therefore the other stuff comes because they keep going.

And one more note: people can tell if you're having fun with your content because you're nerding out about this topic that you love. That is also what makes content pop.

Q: You tweeted recently that everything you’ve done, no matter how random, has worked out and contributed to your success. Which of your projects was the turning point for you? When did you realize, “Yeah this is working?”


I have a philosophy: the people who are my customers are those that love what I do. If I love what I do, then the right people will find it because it'll resonate with them the same way it's resonating with me. So the first sign of success is just liking your own work. Most people fail at that, either because they're way too harsh on their work, or they're trying to please other people, and they don't even like what they make. And that's a recipe for failure, in my opinion.

And second, before the numbers get big, you'll start to get emails or comments that will keep you going. And it's amazing. You can have five comments on a YouTube video that keep you motivated for a year because you’re assured that somebody somewhere really likes this thing. I know, I'm not crazy, this thing does work.

Q: Interesting. You mentioned in an interview with Sacra that you were able to raise funds from the people who had engaged with your content and built a relationship with you. What has been the biggest reward from publishing content for you?

Some background here is that we have a rolling fund that lets other people invest alongside me in the startups I invest in. I have a good network and experience with angel investing, so other people who live outside the US, or don’t have the network or time, can choose to invest in this rolling fund. But the creation and growth of the fund wasn’t something I would have predicted going in – it was a byproduct of doing the work.

The podcast and my Twitter account had started getting popular. Then I tweeted, “Hey, I'm going to raise a rolling fund, and I want to raise a million dollars from people on Twitter, and I'm going to take no meetings,” doing it as a challenge to myself. And we hit that goal in like two days. And then it just kept going.

Social Proof: Shaan Puri on Curating First Impressions
Source

Now, the fund invests between eight to ten million a year across the startups we work with. To this day, I think I've taken maybe one meeting with someone to explain what we do – the whole thing has been driven mostly by people who already listened to me and trusted me.

These are not people I've met in real life, but they've been listening to the podcasts and following me on Twitter for a while. And they felt enough conviction to be able to invest in the fund.

Seeing that conviction come through, especially because people were giving me their money, was the signal that building a personal brand and consistently putting out content really builds trust.

Q: It’s amazing that you could get to that point with two consistent content formats – and your years of experience, of course. I have a chicken or egg question for you. Did publicizing your projects lead to you publishing on social media? Or did you get the ideas for your projects after publishing consistently on social media?

I started making content because I thought it'd be fun and I’d be good at it. And I had more time because I had sold my company – that's when I started.

Q: And which of your efforts, whether it be the podcast or Twitter has led to the opportunity you consider the most valuable?

I wrote a thread about Clubhouse when it was really popular. Everybody thought it was the next big thing and I kind of read a thread saying, “Hey, I don't think so. And here's how I think it's gonna play out.”


And it went viral – 10 million plus people read that thread – which led to a bunch of really interesting people emailing or DMing me saying, “Wow, this is great, we love the way you think, we'd love to get to know you.”

A similar tweet and result was one I did on the metaverse, essentially saying, “People think about the metaverse one way, here's how I think about it differently.”


That also reached many people, and Mark Zuckerberg referenced it and mentioned that it influenced the way he thinks about the metaverse.


Q: What would you tell your past self about building your personal brand if you were starting from scratch?

I would say, “Hey, what you're hoping will happen will happen.”

But if I was going to do it differently, I might just niche down a little more.

Currently, I'm pretty broad – I have The Milk Road, which talks about crypto, and I have Twitter, where I talk about whatever. Then there’s my personal newsletter, curating tweets, and the My First Million podcast, which is more about business breakdowns and ideas. So quite spread out.

But if I really focused on one of those areas, I think I could become maybe the most well-known person in that branch in that niche, but I didn't do that. So I think that would be the only improvement that I would suggest to myself.

Q: What are some downsides you've experienced in your journey as a creator?

To be honest, not many. The content is a bit of a treadmill – you have to keep doing it. It's unlike software where you make it once, and people just use it daily. I think that's probably the biggest downside – you can’t automate creativity. Another thing is the more popular you get, the more people will say mean things to you online. So you have to be able to not worry about that too much.

Takeaways

What I love most about this interview is how actionable it is. Shaan’s passion for the projects he takes on has led him to some amazing opportunities – here are some of the biggest takeaways from our chat:

  • Take control of your narrative: Without prompting, Shaan mentioned the three-word exercise that has become commonplace in Social Proof interviews, framing it as “pillar branding.” Using the pillar-branding exercise is a creative way to visualize what you want other people to get out of their interactions with your online persona. Let us know on Twitter if you’d like a templatized version of the pillar branding template.
  • Do things that match up with how you want to be perceived: When describing the pillar branding exercise, Shaan also mentioned that he thought a certain way about himself but didn’t have enough stories or “evidence” to back that thinking. This shows that it’s vital that you not only think about how you want to be perceived but also take actions that correlate with that perception. Want to be seen as knowledgeable about social media? Experiment with different platforms and tactics with your accounts.
  • Leverage your reputation: Crafting and eventually benefitting from your online persona is something that has come up in previous interviews, but Shaan’s use of his reputation is quite interesting. You may not be raising millions of dollars for an investment fund, but the work you’ve put into growing your online presence should not be siloed. Take advantage of the connections you make to get the opportunities you need.
  • Pick mediums and niches that you enjoy: Whether it’s through writing or speaking, Shaan has found his preferred methods of getting his thoughts out there. You can’t be everywhere or talk about everything, but prioritize finding and settling on your preferred personal branding medium first. This can help pave the way for you to discover what you want to be known for (your niche) and focus on creativity

💡Shaan says it best: you can’t automate creativity. What you can automate is how you put your creative work out there – and that’s where Buffer can support you. Take advantage of our stacked Freemium tier to build a habit of consistency and help maximize your creativity.

Get started now.

https://buffer.com/resources/social-proof-shaan-puri/

Social Proof: Jack Appleby on Loving your Craft

Social Proof: Jack Appleby on Loving your Craft

This edition of Social Proof features Jack Appleby, our first creator with a presence outside of Twitter. Jack is a social strategist with an impressive resume spanning over ten years. He’s run campaigns for Beats By Dre, Microsoft, and Spotify, and was on the Creative Strategy team at Twitch. He now works at Morning Brew as a Creator writing Future Social, a newsletter about social media strategy.

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To connect with Jack and see more of his work, check out Future Social, Twitter,LinkedIn, and TikTok.

Jack built his Twitter following through in-depth social media analysis threads which got him the attention of his favorite NBA teams and dream companies, as well as provided him opportunities when he needed them the most. In this interview, we talk about loving your craft, career-proofing yourself, and dealing with negativity on social media.

🖊️
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: It’s great to have you in for Social Proof, Jack! What do you think about personal branding in general? Would you even call it a personal brand?

When I started building my social media presence, it wasn't with the idea of a personal brand – I just knew I was living in a small pond. I realized I'd been at one company for five years and hadn’t made enough connections in my industry, and I wanted to learn from other people. Twitter seemed like the best way to meet some new pals.

So I started tweeting my thoughts on advertising and social media, hoping to find new peers and mentors. It was a modest number for years – 5,000, maybe 10,000 followers. Then I started tweeting analysis threads, and suddenly it blew up. In one year, I went from 10,000 followers to 30,000, hitting more than 50,000 now. Once I realized I developed an audience, I sort of had to treat it like a personal brand! And now it’s part of my job! My social media accounts combine with my newsletter, Future Social, to form one big ecosystem at Morning Brew.


But personal brands are one of the most incredible ways to career-proof yourself. I've gotten my last three jobs from Twitter DMs – that’s where the conversation started.

Q: That’s interesting – the initial lack of intention to build a personal brand. There seems to be a common theme among the people we’ve interviewed for this series: either starting with what interests you or focusing on finding community before growing a following. How do you decide which platforms to focus on?

It’s all about your priorities. If you want to build a personal brand, it's natural to go to Twitter. But if you're doing it to get job opportunities and show your expertise, it's probably more valuable to build on LinkedIn, which gets incredible engagement and functionally ties your content directly to your resume.

A friend named Brittany Krystle used to work with GaryVee – now she's a LinkedIn specialist. She encouraged me to repurpose my tweets for LinkedIn – an effortless copy-paste strategy. Literally just tossing my tweets on LinkedIn. So I took her advice and drew an audience of 11,000 followers, all off a minimum-effort posting strategy.

Q: Which do you prefer – Twitter or LinkedIn?

I’ve recently shifted more towards LinkedIn than Twitter. For one, it feels less toxic – you're far less likely to run into extreme negativity on LinkedIn than you are on Twitter. The bird app also has a high chance of anonymous accounts where people aren’t representing themselves, using avatars or some other version of anonymity. On LinkedIn, almost everybody is showing up as who they really are.

On the other hand, LinkedIn gets a bad rep for being very corny and a very white platform, which I think are both incredibly fair criticisms. That said, I’ve found people on LinkedIn come off much more willing to learn and interested in growth conversations than those on Twitter. But that’s anecdotal – everyone's got a different experience!

Q: Can you define your personal brand in three words/phrases/ terms?

Three words might be tough – I can do phrases? One: I want to help people understand social strategy. That is the number one thesis of everything I'm doing now.

And two, I want to be the Julia Child of social media. That second one’s a bit of a joke answer but still rings true for me – I think social media can be broken down enough that anyone can learn in space.

Q: Can you paint a picture of your actions that directly resulted in opportunities?

I started by focusing on writing social media analysis – figured that’d be a good way to show how my brain works. I’d frequently write Twitter threads as case studies to highlight brands doing incredible work in the [social strategy] space.

Eventually, people followed me and reached out – I was building a reputation as a thinker. The reality at the time: there weren’t a ton of people tweeting deep social media strategy! I was able to build a reputation as one of the handful who writes in-depth analysis alongside thought pieces on the future of social. It became a great way for me to find new jobs!


I was laid off from a job due to COVID in mid-2020, and for the first time in my life, I did not have a job – I had never been in that situation ever! So I tweeted my availability, and people who followed me and had seen my expertise were more than happy to retweet, make recommendations and connect me with all kinds of people because I gave them a lot of value in the past. That tweet earned over 280,000 impressions – very, very helpful in the job hunt.

Social Proof: Jack Appleby on Loving your Craft

So I tweeted that, and true story, 12 minutes later, the woman who became my boss at Twitch messaged me and said, “Would you ever be interested in working here?” Three months later, I was wearing purple.


The same thing happened when I decided I wanted to leave Twitch for something new. That was my first time quitting a job without having the next job lined up – it’s a little scary! But I’d always wanted to try it, see what would happen if I openly put myself out there without having to sneak around interviewing.

It worked – I got calls from several of my dream companies and multiple final offers, almost all from conversations that started through Twitter. And eventually, I chose the one I wanted the whole time: to work for Morning Brew.

All of [my opportunities] came from proving my value and helping people way ahead of time. When I eventually had an area of need, people were inclined to help!

All of that came from proving my value and helping people way ahead of time so that those moments when I did have an area of need, which was a job, people were inclined to help and already felt comfortable knowing that I had expertise in the space!

Q: Your content seems to focus on transparency a lot – sharing the highlights and downturns of your career journey. Is that intentional?

I write most of my content about social media and advertising, but interestingly enough when I‘ve asked people how they found me, many reference my mental health content. For example, I wrote a thread about an opportunity I had to work with my favorite NBA player, which I completely ghosted.


It was my dream job, but I was spiraling through depression and struggling with the isolation of the pandemic, so much that I couldn't emotionally even get myself to write the email to do the thing. I had so much shame and confusion in that moment. A year later, I put it out there as a thread that not only went viral in the marketing community but made it all the way to Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. I’ve found that being vulnerable helps – I want to normalize discussion about the highs and lows of career-land.

Q: Because you’re a social strategist at heart, I hypothesized that you probably have a system and strategy for content ideas. How much of your personal branding has been a deliberate effort versus on-the-fly content?

A big part of personal branding: if you don't love what you’re building your brand around, it will fail. I’ve found great career success in building a personal brand around social media strategy because I love it! I’m genuinely curious about social media and communities, so it doesn’t feel like work to me. And I think there are real advantages to building a personal brand around your career. But if you're not fascinated by what you talk about, you’ll struggle – it takes a lot of effort.

Social Proof: Jack Appleby on Loving your Craft

Most of my biggest personal brand successes came from making my analysis as accessible as possible. For instance, Xbox had a pretty big leak in 2020 where the image of their new console dropped before their official announcement. In 24 hours, they pivoted their entire social media strategy using memes, so I spent several hours writing out a timeline-based Twitter thread on their process.


I knew that if I nailed it, the thread had a chance to go viral – and it did! But I love this stuff – it's just fun for me to write.

Q: I can corroborate that – having to constantly engage with a topic or industry you don’t care about can be exhausting. Given this, do you think everyone must have a personal brand?

As I’ve matured in my career, the language I use around personal branding has changed quite a bit. In my mid-20s, when I saw these huge opportunities coming my way thanks to my personal brand, I shouted to anyone who’d hear that they absolutely must build a personal brand! But as I’ve built my presence up, I’ve experienced plenty of the downsides, namely the toxicity of strangers. Now I’m more likely to say ‘there are amazing benefits to building a personal brand’ without that ‘you’ve got to do it’ language.

Q: What advice would you give someone trying to separate their personal brand identity from the company or industry they work with?

I think if you're looking to build a personal brand around your professional expertise, talking about your work will be an easy route to do that – it's going to be a cleaner way to share your experiences. Oddly enough, I did it the complete opposite way. A lot of my career was spent at agencies, and while I’ve worked for many big brands, there's always that little worry your clients might think you’re taking too much credit.

I built my accounts by analyzing other people's work because I wasn't sure how much I could talk about my own work! But now, at Morning Brew, I'm encouraged to talk about what I’m up to. If you're allowed to, that can be a huge brand-building technique.

Q: If you were starting over today as a person just building your personal brand, what advice would you give yourself?

Go engage with people. I’ve used Twitter as mostly a publishing platform, sharing my own thoughts. I almost think I made it hard on myself by focusing more on content than community. If I cut back on my production time and spent more hours just getting to know other people on Twitter, it’d have helped in shareability, connections, and support. I definitely recommend you go meet as many people as possible in your community of choice.

Q: What question do you wish I had asked but didn’t?

I think it’s important to highlight the downsides of building a personal brand. Candidly, the first time I went to therapy was because of something that happened on the internet. It wasn’t the only thing driving that decision, but it was the final straw.

The negativity is a major downside, so I have a zero-tolerance blocking policy right now – I currently have 767 accounts blocked and don’t apologize for a single one of them.

Q: What do you see as the future for personal brand building?

If you're building a personal brand based on a profession or your business expertise, there is immense value in having content that is deeper than a single social media post. Twitter is great, but 280 characters on their own only go so far.

Whether it's a newsletter, an encyclopedic YouTube video, a Twitter Note, or a deck that you've shared online, creating an in-depth piece of content – as opposed to high-level Twitter threads – is where you can go from someone who's in the space to someone who's provided value.

Think about this: how are you providing the biggest chunks of value at one time?

The social networks are where you're gonna grow your audience, for sure. But the thing you have to think through is, how are you providing the biggest chunks of value at one time?

Takeaways

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from chatting with Jack.

  • Share what you love talking about anyway: If you’re very passionate about a topic, say the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then you probably love consuming content about it. And you also want others to hear all your thoughts on that topic. There aren’t many topics without a community of people that are passionate about them – and just as you are passionate about something, so are thousands of other people. And they want content. Jack’s passion is social strategy – what’s yours?
  • Protect your mental health: Building an online presence might make you feel like you have to be online all the time, but that can easily lead to burnout and insecurity. Jack prioritizes his mental health and does not hesitate to take actions that protect it while online. Wherever you fall on the content creation spectrum – business owner, social media manager or creator, it’s important to set boundaries and take care of your mental health.
  • Aim to provide value through your content: Jack poses an important question, “How are you providing value?” To grow an engaged audience, you need to go deeper than just posting a tweet or two once every other week. Prioritize experimenting with different formats to deliver your message, and find out how you can turn your expertise into content that connects with your audience.

💡Content creation isn't easy, whether as a job or a side project you’re using to grow your online presence. It takes time and consistency that not a lot of people can afford.

Automation can make it much easier for you to build that consistency – Buffer’s one of the tools that can help you with that.

Get started building your online presence with Buffer today!

https://buffer.com/resources/social-proof-jack-appleby/

Social Proof: Steph Smith on Intentionally Building a Personal Brand

What is Social Proof?

Social Proof: Steph Smith on Intentionally Building a Personal Brand

Social Proof is a series chronicling how ambitious individuals intentionally craft and grow their personal brands to inspire anyone hoping to do the same. Social Proof has a double meaning — ‘to replicate the actions of others to get similar results’ and ‘to showcase the power of social media in growing a personal brand’. We hope to bring to light insights that can help you bring both meanings to life for your personal brand.

For the second edition of Social Proof, we interview one of the prime examples of crafting a personal brand — Steph Smith.

Steph Smith is a multi-hyphenate with a career spanning ten years. She recently started a role at Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), a venture capital firm, as their podcast host. She’s also led Trends at The Hustle, a premium newsletter publication acquired by Hubspot, and was also Director of Marketing for Hubspot Creators.

Steph has many side projects like her book Doing Content Right and podcast Sh*t You Didn’t Learn In School. So when thinking about who would be great to kick off Social Proof, Steph naturally came up as she’s been actively creating content for her personal brand since 2018.

Throughout our conversation, Steph shares interesting stories about how she built a Twitter following of over 118 thousand followers from scratch, starting by sharing her progress in learning how to code.

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To follow or see more of Steph’s work, check out her Twitter, LinkedIn, and website.

So, how might people with multiple interests and abilities find what works for them and channel that into intentional personal brand growth online? I'm not sure, but we find out how Steph is doing just that in this interview.

🖊️
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: Welcome Steph, and thanks for agreeing to this interview! So we wanted to start by having you define how you think about personal branding.

Tim Ferriss once said that everyone has a personal brand, regardless of whether you have 10 followers or 10 million followers – and I agree. It’s the perception that people have developed of you. For example, you could be associated with a certain level of intelligence, an industry, or personal attributes like being funny or reserved.

And I find building a personal brand fascinating because just as you grow as a person, your brand also evolves. But sometimes, how people see you and how you want to be seen can become disjointed – or sometimes, they are aligned very well. It's always fascinating to hear how people view your personal brand versus how you perceive yourself.

Q: That’s an interesting way to think about it — everyone seeing you one way and you not being able to control that image fully. This leads to my next question: Have you intentionally built your personal brand?

So I like that question. Because I think I have been intentional in some ways. But I also think your personal brand is sometimes out of your own reach. What I mean by that is that I've built many things over the last couple of years, and you could say that those inputs have a level of intentionality. But I can't always control the things that people latch on to.

An example of something people have latched on to that I didn't expect – nor did I intentionally try to seed – is my being a “content person”. And people might say, well, of course, people view you that way, you have a blog, you wrote a book – but I never saw myself that way. There are things that you will do and things that you will try to work on so intensely and even at times, you’re effectively screaming, “Hey, view me this way!” And people just won't. Counter to that, there will be things you do and ways you don't see yourself that other people will start to ascribe to you.

Q: What keywords would you use to describe your personal brand?

If I were to label myself, I’d use the terms ‘curious’, ‘thoughtful/intentional,’ and ‘transparent.’

Curiosity: Everything that I do is truly driven by my curiosities. And I think I do that more than the average creator who will typically test several things, figure out what works, and then double down on what the market wants. This works well and is probably a more lucrative path, but I prefer to pursue that which interests me, and luckily that’s had some market need along the way. But I also have done so by disjointing my creative pursuits and my full-time job.

Social Proof: Steph Smith on Intentionally Building a Personal Brand

Thoughtful/intentional: One thing I always hope comes through in my work is that it's thoughtful. And what I mean by thoughtful is that when I create something, it's because I really want to create it, but I also do it as best I can and don’t sacrifice elements of it to get more of a following or more sales. An example is my book, Doing Content Right – I’ve never run ads for it and never promoted it in ways that I think are sleazy.

Transparent: When I learn something …, I will most likely share it, whether it's through tweeting or writing articles or podcasting … like when I was learning to code and learned a new way to integrate with the Google API. I knew that was something that maybe some fraction of the world wanted to know. And so I would take the time to write that up and have done something similar hundreds of times now, including how I built my open page. I think I'm more transparent relative to at least the average creator, because I see the space as positive-sum.

Q: Something interesting you mentioned is experimentation as a way to evolve a personal brand — can you elaborate on that?

If you look at the creators that have sustained their audiences over time, they've had to reinvent many times over. Putting enough versions of yourself out there, as strange as it sounds, means there are more chances people will latch onto something.

It's almost like a startup. A startup must continue iterating, experimenting, and putting different versions of its product out there. And what they can't control is ultimately what the market wants. But they can create enough versions or run enough tests to give themselves enough opportunities to find product-market fit.

Q: Continuing with this theme of experimentation, what are moments in your professional journey when you've had to evolve or iterate on what you thought your personal brand was going to be?

Yeah, I can call out several points along [my journey]. When I started in the workforce, I had to pivot because I did my degree in chemical engineering. But then, the available jobs weren't the ones I wanted to do; most were in oil and gas. So that was the first evolution – even though I viewed myself as an engineer and put all this work into this degree, I had to do something new.

Social Proof: Steph Smith on Intentionally Building a Personal Brand

I went into consulting and had a clear path of action there, but then I wanted to be remote. So I had to reinvent myself again, which luckily led me into tech and created an interesting inflection point, where I was asked to lead a publications team. And it's not so much that I don't like being branded as a content person, but I had this reaction of “I don't lead publications teams… that's not what I do.” But I ended up doing it, and it was a great decision.

I had to allow myself to become someone I had never considered being. – Steph Smith, a16z Podcast Host

That was another example where I had to allow myself to become someone that I never considered being. That period is when I started coding and creating content online. I was creating indie products through code, which I thought would be my “thing” – an identity as a woman in tech, and I even started writing about that. But then I started writing about writing; writing about content.

There have been many evolutions where I've had to, you could say from an outside perspective, rebrand myself. But internally, as corny as it sounds, it was just about following what I was interested in at the time and what opportunities fell on my plate.

Now, I've tried to dissociate more from my identity and how I view myself, and instead focus on what interests me at the time because now, becoming a full-time podcaster, I could have never predicted that. That was yet another phase change, where I had to shed what I was before to start something new … I think now it's come more easily because I just view myself as a multi-hyphenate.

Q: So, as a multi-hyphenate, you’ve done a lot of work in podcast hosting, coding, and writing. A common thread is how much passion and effort shine through in each project. Do you see your projects as a vehicle for growing your personal brand? And how do you connect these efforts to each other to craft the image people have of you?

Yes, everything I do will relate to my personal brand, some more than others. I can’t help that. There are things that reach many people and will be most impactful. But every little bit contributes, so I try to do my best no matter the situation, whether I’m starring on someone’s podcast or releasing a book or something much “smaller”.

Everything I do, whether I like it or not, relates to my personal brand and is a vehicle for it. But ultimately, what drives that vehicle, good or bad, is how I perform in every one of those circumstances. And hopefully, it's more positive than negative.

Again, you can't always control what people think about your work, but you can sway the way people see your personal brand through the projects you pursue and how you pursue them. This is why I think many creators find themselves on the slippery slope I mentioned earlier. If the quality of your work doesn’t match your audience’s expectations and seems like a money grab, you’ve harmed your personal brand and that trust is hard to win back.

Q: I’d like to dive into something that’s an essential part of this series — the place of social media in developing a personal brand. You’re super active on Twitter — would you say that’s the main platform you’ve used to grow your online presence?

Twitter has been the main platform for growing my online presence, and the “why” behind that is pretty simple – that's where I enjoy spending the most time, and creating content there is easier for me than creating content on other platforms.

I do want to explore more platforms because I am quite concentrated on Twitter. But I also have to consider a simple content marketing question, “Where's my audience?” If I'm talking about technology, there's a lot of content around that on TikTok, so that’s an example of a platform that I'm debating venturing into.

Q: Has growing an online presence using social media, specifically Twitter, helped your career?

When I learned to code in 2018, I was not active on Twitter, so I ended up wiping my account and starting with zero followers. No one knew who I was nor why I might be interesting.

And from where I am today, I can confidently say that several of my recent roles have come through (or at least been heavily supported by) my presence on social media or my personal projects, not my official resume. One example of this is how I joined The Hustle. Sam, the founder, saw an article that I had written, which went viral on Hacker News and was shared by a well-known VC. By that point, I think I maybe had about three thousand followers. That's how he discovered my work, which led me to The Hustle, which was later acquired by HubSpot.

Q: Since you have experience cleaning the slate and starting anew on a social media platform, what would you recommend that people with zero to minimal presence on social media do when thinking about how to use theirs to grow a personal brand?

If I was just starting out, I would figure out what I'm most interested in right now and double down on that. I would share everything I'm learning in that capacity and become known as someone uniquely interested in that space. And then, once you build a little bit of a following, you have the freedom to diversify and focus on other things, as I've done.

This may be counterintuitive to everything I’ve said about experimentation and evolution as a way to grow your personal brand, but it’s essential at the beginning of your journey to plant one seed and nurture it.

Q: Before we wrap up, do you have any final thoughts to share?

Millions of people create content, so it’s essential that you find a niche and give people a reason to follow you among the sea of others. One key way to approach this is through the topics you talk about.

Social Proof: Steph Smith on Intentionally Building a Personal Brand

Another way many people miss, which can be just as effective, is how you talk about a topic. For example, there are tons of people who write about technology every day. But there are certain influencers, many who are newer, that do it better. They might be funnier, more contrarian, more visual, etc. So it's not just about time in the game but also how you're doing it.

Takeaways

Here are some ways to implement Steph’s personal brand-building tactics for your journey:

  • Be intentional about building your personal brand: No matter what you choose to do to grow your brand and online presence, always bring your best self. Prepare for speaking engagements, create quality content, and treat every project as an extension of you. Transparency is a great way to stay intentional about your goals, and Steph has a lot of experience with both as she grew her Twitter by sharing her coding journey and indie projects. Check out this article for ideas of how to practice transparency as a way to stay intentional.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment: A big theme of Steph’s journey has been experimentation. Try different content formats, tackle new topics, and create for different platforms to find what works best for you. When it comes to trying new things, the small businesses in this article have their strategy down pat.
  • Double down on one area: When you’re just starting out creating content for your personal brand, it’s important to become known for something. This helps you build expertise and credibility, and gives your potential audience something to latch on to. To figure out the balancing act of experimenting without tackling too many things at once – and at the risk of sounding repetitive – time in the game is less important than how you’re doing your work. If you take a new approach to your chosen field or topic, you can win people over or at least make them curious. For some inspiration, check out this article on interesting TikTok creators.
  • Be open to new experiences: Steph mentioned being wary about taking on a role as head of publications because she’d never done it before but chose to forge ahead anyway. If you want to accelerate the growth of your personal brand, it’s important to be open to new challenges when they come. Putting yourself and your work out there can feel scary, but it can be very rewarding. Check out this article for ways you can open up new experiences for yourself using your online presence.

🔌Once you’re ready to start sharing content to your social channels, check out Buffer for easy automated scheduling and publishing!

https://buffer.com/resources/social-proof-steph-smith/

Social Proof: Fadeke Adegbuyi on Creating a Distinct Identity for Yourself Online

What is Social Proof?

Social Proof: Fadeke Adegbuyi on Creating a Distinct Identity for Yourself Online

Social Proof is a series chronicling how ambitious individuals intentionally craft and grow their personal brands with the goal of inspiring anyone hoping to do the same. Social Proof has a double meaning — ‘to replicate the actions of others to get similar results’ and ‘to showcase the power of social media in growing a personal brand’. We hope to bring to light insights that can help you bring both meanings to life for your personal brand.

Welcome to the first installment of our new series Social Proof. We are kicking off with one of my favorite writers on the Internet – Fadeke Adegbuyi.

Fadeke is a prolific writer and repository of internet culture knowledge. Fadeke is currently a Lead Writer at Shopify and the mind behind Cybernaut, a personal favorite newsletter, as part of Every – a bundle of business-focused newsletters.

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To follow or see more of Fadeke’s work, check out her Twitter, LinkedIn, and newsletter.

Fadeke has built a reputation as a content mastermind, formerly co-leading content strategy at Doist – the masterminds behind everyone's favorite to-do list –  to her current role at Shopify, where she works on editorial strategy and writes about entrepreneurs and creators. Her ability to understand and distill internet culture into engaging articles has crafted a distinct personal brand for her in that niche.

Not everyone will build their personal brand in the same way as Fadeke. Some people might choose to make YouTube videos or start a podcast. But there are lessons to be learned from every person’s journey— which is why we’re doing this series.

Through this interview (and more to come), we hope to bring to light insights that can help you on your journey to creating and growing a personal brand.

Let’s get to the interview.

🖊️
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Q: Thanks for joining me for Social Proof, Fadeke! What do you think about personal branding in general? Have you been quite intentional about yours? Would you even call it a personal brand?

“Personal brand” is a term that was thrown around a lot, especially in the early 2010s, but now feels a little outdated. And I think there's also a bit of hesitation about describing one's online presence and presentation as a personal brand. People cringe at the word, but in reality, everyone online has a personal brand. However you present yourself online, that's how your personal brand is perceived.

Q: So what word would you use to describe it instead?

I don't mind the term personal brand! I don’t use a specific term, but if I had to pick, I would say “online presence” or “social media presence.”

Q: Can you define your online presence slash personal brand? In three words or terms?

I would use the words: genuine, simple, and informal.

Genuine: I try to be as genuine as possible and not post things I don't feel aligned with.

Simple: I keep it pretty simple regarding the type of content I'm posting and the language I'm using.

Friendly/informal: I think there is an impulse to make your social media presence and your personal brand very polished, which can be a good thing depending on the person, but I tried just not to make it too stuffy and professional.

Q: What do you think about growing an online presence in general? Have you been quite intentional about yours since you started your career?

I work as a marketer and a content marketer and have professionally been in charge of growing brands and caring a great deal about metrics, numbers, and growth. So I don't apply those same parameters when I'm thinking about my own personal brand or my own personal social media platforms.

Social Proof: Fadeke Adegbuyi on Creating a Distinct Identity for Yourself Online

However, I think it is important to have an online presence and have a brand distinct from your employer. That's something that's always been important to me – having a presence online where I can share what I'm working on and what I'm interested in and, in turn, connect with people who are interested in the same things. And it also helps me have an inflow of hiring and collaboration opportunities.

A project I enjoyed working on was the Holloway Guide to Using Twitter, which details how to use Twitter and get the most out of it. I wouldn't say I follow all of the principles [in the guide], I’m definitely not as consistent as I could be, but I think they’re good principles and ones that I've observed others using to grow a personal brand.

Q: Would you say that social media has been a big part of how you’ve grown your career? And can you draw a direct line between what you did on social media and the opportunities that resulted from that?

Social media has been important for sharing my work and getting feedback. Putting your work out in the world can be impactful for career growth and can help bring opportunities your way.

I've written articles, posted them on social media, and had them resonate with others and perform well. And that has led to opportunities with other publications and editors reaching out to me and saying, “I liked this piece in your newsletter, I'd love for you to pitch us and write a piece.” I’ve also been offered opportunities for jobs, consulting, or freelancing. Those are all things that directly result from my posting on social media.


One of the things that I think is important about building a personal brand, in general, is if you do awesome work at a company, and nobody hears about it outside of your work, that can be limiting career-wise. We're at a point in the economy where we're seeing a downturn, an impending recession, and layoffs across companies. Social media can be a very impactful way to get your work out there.

Q: Which do you prefer — social media or newsletters?

I like both, and I think they both have different purposes. With my newsletter, I'm writing pieces that lean into long-form writing and are anywhere from 2000 to 5000 words. So there are a lot of nuances that can be explored and many dimensions that can be fleshed out.

But on social media, your character count is limited, so I think there is a bit of an incentive to make things more black and white, to write things that are snappier and less nuanced. So I think it's interesting to play with the two and have both platforms at your disposal.

Q: Are you ever actively thinking about growing your presence in numbers? Or are you more concerned with the quality of your engagement?

I generally don't track growth and engagement across my posts. So for social media, I'm more thinking about, “How do I describe my work in a way that it's compelling? How can I connect with interesting people?” It’s less about metrics and numbers.

Q: I think it's interesting how you can balance your collected knowledge with the need to serve Every’s typical business audience. How do you cultivate that knowledge, understanding internet culture so deeply? And then balance that with serving the audience that might primarily encounter your work on your newsletter Cybernaut?

When I'm thinking about writing a piece and exploring one of these online spaces, I'm not necessarily thinking about a business audience specifically.  When I'm thinking about Cybernaut, and writing about internet culture for Every, I'm also thinking about expanding our audience and pushing past our existing base of subscribers.

Across my newsletter subscribers, I have a mixed bag of people reading it across media, business, and venture capital – it would be quite challenging to appeal to all those different segments. I'm really just focused on writing the best piece possible and creating something compelling and interesting.


And I think that if you're focused on that, everyone can find a piece of that article that they might find compelling. They might be interested in the social media aspect or some of the human stories there. I aim to write the best piece possible and hope it finds an audience of people who are just as interested in internet culture as me.

Q: You’re a content creator with a big emphasis on productivity — how do you balance staying productive with building your personal brand?

That is a challenge I always run up against. I love being online, but at the same time, it can be a big distraction.

I've written extensively about the power of focus and flow and the importance of moving away from context switching toward deep work. So I have a bunch of tools in my arsenal that allow me to unplug from social media. I use a site blocker, Self Control, and an app, RescueTime – they help me regulate how much time I spend online.

Social Proof: Fadeke Adegbuyi on Creating a Distinct Identity for Yourself Online

If you are very online, and have a job where you're required to maintain some level of awareness of what's happening online, be intentional about having periods where you're unplugging and creating work versus trying to multitask and do both at the same time.

Q: You’ve been working remotely for a long time, and there’s a camp that believes career growth can be negatively impacted by remote work. Would you say remote work has helped or hurt your access to opportunities?

I wouldn't say remote work necessarily hurts or helps. But I think there is some truth to the idea that remote work can be a bit of a blocker in building professional connections and a strong work peer group if you are early in your career.

As much as I love remote work, I think there are limitations, and it's hard to beat in-person interaction. Something important for me all the years I've worked remotely is being intentional about building those connections while working remotely and living outside a big city center.

I think building a personal brand can be a big part of that. Creating content about what you do and sharing it online can be a form of inbound marketing. Building a personal brand that allows you to connect with the people you want to can be more important if you're working remotely.

Q: What advice would you give yourself if you were just building a personal brand from scratch?

“If you're not putting yourself out there in terms of going into an office and having a presence at an in-person job, you have to put yourself out there in another way.”

Social Proof: Fadeke Adegbuyi on Creating a Distinct Identity for Yourself Online

Putting yourself out there might mean building a social media presence, it might mean writing a newsletter or writing a blog, or it might mean building an online community. But to progress professionally, it’s helpful to surround yourself with ambitious people, including people who are a few steps ahead of you. Social media can be a really powerful way to do that.

Q: How have you cultivated that community for yourself?

I've joined a handful of online communities over the years. The Grand is a great one for career growth, Superpath is wonderful for content marketers, and On Deck for everything from writing to entrepreneurship. And of course Every, our writer collective which includes a Discord community for paid subscribers. I also love Twitter. Those are all places online where I've been able to meet fantastic people and that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to if I wasn't intentional about seeking out community online.

Q: What would you say is the future of personal branding/growing an online presence?

I think we are in a phase where people are allergic to “professionalism” and content that doesn't feel genuine. Anyone building a personal brand should lean into authenticity while finding the balance between that and oversharing, which can be a tough balance to strike. We’re also seeing this form on “influencer creep” where it’s almost a prerequisite at this point to maintain some level of an online presence and bring visibility to your work. We’ll see more people trying to navigate that.

Takeaways

If you’re looking to create a distinct voice for yourself online like Fadeke has, here are some important things to remember.

  • Separate your identity from your employer’s. Fadeke says, “It’s important to have a brand that's distinct from your employer. That's something that's always been important to me – having a presence online where I can share what I'm working on and what I'm interested in and, in turn, connect with people who are interested in the same things.”
  • Be vocal about your work. If you do awesome work at a company, and nobody hears about it outside of your work, that can be limiting career-wise. Want to know how to position yourself on different platforms? Check out this article.
  • Experiment with different platforms on your journey to building a cohesive personal brand. Whether adopting longer-form writing through a newsletter, Twitter Notes or creating video content, try out different things as you explore what format best shows off your work and personality.

📍Once you’re ready to grow your distinct online presence, check out Buffer for easy automated scheduling and publishing!

https://buffer.com/resources/social-proof-fadeke-adegbuyi/